Saturday, July 23, 2011

Introducing the Traveller

The Traveller, a nameless immortal wanderer, is by a long way my most reused character.  To date, he’s appeared in four novels – including At An Uncertain Hour, published in 2009 – and 21 short stories, eight of which have been published.  And that’s only the start.  So who is he, and what makes him tick?

He originated some forty years ago as a minor character in my (still) ongoing epic fantasy trilogy, The Winter Legend, though his role in that story has increased over the years.  He was called Tollanis then, but I fairly soon established that this was merely the local word for traveller, and that it was more of a soubriquet than a name.  He was a mysterious figure, “cursed” with immortality.  Such is the luxury of youth.  Now I’m considerably closer to my bus-pass than to school, I struggle to see where the curse is.

My big breakthrough with this character came by accident.  During the nth rewrite of The Winter Legend, I felt it might be effective to hint at some sort of background for him and, completely off the top of my head, I made a comment about an ancient legend concerning “the Traveller” who’d fought the Demon Queen of the South.

Now, this intrigued me, and I wanted to know who this queen was and why he was fighting her.  Before long I’d written a biographical sketch about him.  The Traveller was born in a tiny village among the mountains, which he’d left in his mid-teens.  He sometimes claims to have forgotten his original name, but he actually has reasons for wanting it to be lost.  After many years of wandering in an enchanted ship, and numerous adventures, he’d stumbled into a spell that had rendered him immortal.

The Traveller’s immortality doesn’t mean he can’t be killed – though he recovers better than most from both sickness and injury – but he doesn’t age beyond his apparent thirty years, and therefore his body doesn’t degenerate and die.  Theoretically, he could live forever.

During the 1990s, I began writing stories about the Traveller’s wanderings, and eventually I tackled the tale of his thousand-year war against the Demon Queen, another immortal he’s encountered before.  This became At An Uncertain Hour, which was published by Publishing.  Besides this and The Winter Legend, I have two more novels projected that will feature the Traveller, and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities in short stories.  The most recent Traveller story I wrote is set later than most and shows a society struggling towards technology – a fantasy/steampunk blend.

My concept of the Traveller has developed considerably since my teens, although the core character has barely changed.  The main influences on his development (deliberate or unconscious) have been the Ancient Mariner, Doctor Who and Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane.

The Ancient Mariner has many similarities to the Traveller.  Both find themselves unwillingly immortal; both travel on enchanted ships; both “have strange powers of speech” – the Traveller has a kind of magical equivalent of the Universal Translator.  He even uses an albatross as his symbol.  The differences, though, are more significant.  The Traveller’s condition came about by trying to do the right thing, not by a criminal act.  Most of all, he refuses to see his condition as a curse, as the Mariner certainly does.  Far from expiating his guilt, the Traveller sees his extended life as an opportunity.

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I watched the very first episode as a child, so it’s perhaps not surprising that I should have been influenced.  Still, it wasn’t until someone else pointed it out that I realised how many similarities there are between the Traveller and the Doctor, ranging from journeying in an extraordinary craft to the mystery about his name.  The characteristic they share most strongly, though, is the tension between longing to be footloose and travel everywhere, and the inability – perched uncomfortably between idealism and megalomania – to turn away from need and oppression.

Wagner’s Kane is a now largely forgotten sword & sorcery series from the 70s.  On the whole, the plots of the stories were fairly unremarkable, but they had intriguing settings and atmospheres, and are well worth reading, if you can get hold of the books.  Most of all, though, Kane was a fascinating character.  Supposedly the Biblical Cain on his eternal wanderings, he’s sometimes the hero of the stories, sometimes the villain, often somewhere in between.  I was captivated by the idea of a strong central character wandering through stories that each take place in different periods of history, and when I began writing the Traveller’s adventures, I tried to achieve a similar effect, but with a more morally positive character.

Not that the Traveller’s a saint.  Far from it – he’s constantly tormented by memories of disasters, of lives he’s ruined or ended by trying to help.  He’s an ordinary man, in a lot of ways, trying to navigate the complexities of moral choices and do the right thing.  It’s just that he has a lot longer than most of us to learn lessons and regret his mistakes.

Many would see immortality as a curse – that the immortal would be constantly mourning the loss of loved ones, and find it intolerable that they grow old and die.  The Traveller certainly has his share of regrets – he says once that “a life without regrets is a life that hasn’t been lived” – but mostly he looks forward. “To love for a lifetime,” he says, “yet not be exhausted.  Then to love the next generation the same way.  How many people have that privilege?”

The Traveller certainly feels the pain of loss and tragedy from his life, and there are times when it threatens to overwhelm him.  Ultimately, though, he believes that “Life isn’t a curse or a blessing.  Things happen, and you deal with them: that’s all.”  I think he’s right.

Oh, and the true name he doesn’t disclose?  That will be revealed in the novel I have slated to write when I’ve finally completed The Winter Legend, along with the reason why I’ve kept it secret for so long.  I hope it will be worth the wait.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Great Queen out in OG's Speculative Fiction

OG's Speculative Fiction Issue 31 is now out on Kindle, including my story The Great Queen, showing that the best-laid plans can go wrong.  The issue also includes stories by Ronald D. Ferguson and Dan Voltz, and poetry by Greg Schwartz.  Not to mention that stunning cover - a bargain at 99c.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two Drifters Off To See The World

This month sees, by sheer coincidence, the publication of two stories from my series about the itinerant teenage sorcerers, Karaghr and Failiu, known to their friends as Kari and Fai.  Steal Away is featured in the summer edition of Golden Visions, while The Temple of Taak-Resh is released as an ebook by Darwin’s Evolutions.

So I thought I’d give a bit of background on this pair of fantasy juvenile delinquents.  Karaghr, in fact, first figured at a much later stage of his life in my trilogy The Winter Legend, where he gives a hint of his past life, referring to a girl called Failiu he loved when he was young.

Rightly or wrongly, I can’t see a backstory without writing about it, so I began writing stories about their time together.  There are three so far – besides these two, Rainy Season was published last year in Golden Visions – and I hope to write more.

Kari and Fai met in the great city of Errish, at a turbulent time in its history.  The city had just seized its independence from the Empire of the Demon Queen and was now at the head of a growing alliance against her, but the two young people paid little attention to great affairs.  They met in the Temple of the god Taliqi, where both were acolytes.

Failiu grew up on the streets of Errish, a homeless waif who begged and stole and, if she’d been left there, would probably have ended up a prostitute by her teens and dead before twenty.  However, a kindly priest of Taliqi called Jareo took her into the temple when she was ten, where she remained in the boring but safe service of the god.

Karaghr, on the other hand, was born in a village in the Kheoshe Valley, far from the Demon Queen’s influence.  Bored by the routine life of a farming community, he leapt at the chance to go with a travelling Errishi priest and live in the greatest city in the world – even if that did mean enduring the discipline of temple life.

Kari and Fai were in their mid teens when they met, and the bond that grew between them worked on many levels: lust, caring, lust, a shared sense of adventure, lust, a thirst for knowledge.  Oh, and did I mention lust?  Their relationship became sexual by stages – strictly contrary to their vows, but what are vows against teenage hormones? – and they found their way to forbidden volumes of sorcery in the temple’s library.  It was against the laws of Taliqi to study such things – but, as Kari has pointed out, the books shouldn’t have been there, in that case.  It was all the temple’s fault.

The inevitable happened.  Kari and Fai were found out and expelled from the Temple of Taliqi.  They had no money, and nowhere to go, but what did that matter?  They were Outlaws and Outcasts, together against the world: what more can you ask at seventeen?  They were also proficient sorcerers.  Well, fairly proficient.  Well, they could fake what they didn’t actually remember.  The world wasn’t going to know what had hit it.

So there we have them, off on their great adventure.  Failiu has a little common sense and caution, but it tends to get blown away by her love of adventure.  And as for Karaghr, he’s a seventeen-year-old boy determined to impress the whole world – not mention his girlfriend.  What do you expect?

The Story So Far

As this is my first blog, I thought I’d start with The Story So Far.  I’ve been writing stories since I was four years old, and took to writing poetry in my teens – though most of it was a long way from being teenage angst – but until I was in my twenties it didn’t occur to me to think of myself as “a writer”.  I ate when I was hungry, drank when I was thirsty, wrote when I had ideas.

When I was fifteen, I had an idea for a story called The Winter Legend.  At first, I tried to write it as narrative verse – not one of my better ideas – before I switched to prose fiction.  Over several decades since then, I’ve worked at what’s become a trilogy of fantasy novels, but the initial idea as a whole has grown exponentially.  It now comprises an entire world – I’ve written novels and short stories that cover seven continents and five thousand years of history.  Much of it centres round an accidentally immortal character called the Traveller – perhaps I could refer to my world as “the Travellerverse” – but he’s only or a supporting character in some of the stories and doesn’t appear in many more.

At An Uncertain Hour, published in 2009 by StoneGarden, tells the first three thousand years of the Traveller’s life, and I’m currently knocking The Winter Legend, which takes place about a thousand years later, into final shape.  The first volume, The Tryst Flame, is ready to go, and I’m performing major surgery on the second, Children of Ice.  Volume three, Dreams of Fire and Snow, is about two-thirds complete in rough draft, but needs a considerable amount of work.

Lined up for when that’s done is a novel that’s a prequel to The Winter Legend and a sequel to At An Uncertain Hour; a trilogy about a reluctant young goddess called Cath-Korza; and a final novel, to bring the ennealogy to a close, that unites the Traveller and Cath-Korza.  In addition, I’ve written a number of short stories about the Traveller, series about Eltava, Karaghr & Failiu, and Salsha, as well as a number of stand-alones, all set in the Travellerverse.  A dozen or so of them have been published in various outlets, including the novella The City of Ferrid, published by Crystal Codices.

Not all of my work is set in the same world, however.  I’ve also written a novel (The Unicorn Queen) and several short stories set in a fictional European country called Westria.  So far, the stories have followed
Westrian history, with a fantasy element, from the 8th Century to the 21st.  Only one has been published to date – The Children of Dorsaeg in The Sword Review – but I’ve only begun to explore Westria.  It’s had several equally fictional colonies, too, in various parts of the world – including New Westria, one of the fifty-one states of the Union.

I also write many one-off stories.  My first publication was Safe as Houses in The Thirteenth Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories, which appeared immediately before a reprint by some guy called H.P. Lovecraft.  My most recent to date is Steal Away, a story featuring the Traveller and two fantasy juvenile delinquents called karaghr and Failiu, in Golden Visions.

I’ve written a good deal of poetry too over the years, and performed it in many venues, often backed by my own pre-recorded music (commonly known as The Invisible Band).  My favourite venue during the Nineties was the London coffee-house Bunjies – unfortunately now closed – which in its time was frequented by everyone from Bob Dylan and David Bowie to Jo Brand and Eddie Izzard.  And whatever happened to them?  I stopped writing poetry about ten years ago, for reasons I’ve never been very sure about, but I’ve written a few this year, so who knows?

So that’s my writing so far, and I’ll be looking in subsequent posts at various aspects of this, along with things I’ve learnt on the way.  I hope you’ll stay with me.